Chimene MacNaughton, general manager of Wainscott Main Wine & Spirits in Wainscott, was born in Pasadena and educated in California public schools. She eventually went to UCLA and then jumped right into what she thought would be a career in retail management.
While still in her early 20s, MacNaughton “peeled out of women’s ready-to-wear and luxury accessories” and entered the San Francisco fine-dining scene. She’s been in hospitality ever since.
Despite her admitted West Coast wine bias, she has embraced Long Island wine from the beginning and continues to do so today. She has lived on the East End full time since 2005 and helped open Wainscott Main Wine & Spirits in early 2014.
LT: What made you want to get into the wine business?
CM: I come from restaurants — big fine-dining wine programs — and when I started in my early 20s in San Francisco, I knew nearly nothing. My start was more like a 1,200 bottle list, with 20 plus by the glass, Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World” book, and a prayer!
My first big restaurant job was at Hawthorne Lane. The wine program and dining room was run by Richard Coraine, who many New York industry kids will know from his decades in management at Union Square Hospitality Group. His list was long on Kermit Lynch’s and Bob Chadderdon’s portfolios. I remember distinctly the moment very early on when I discovered that Sancerre produced not just gorgeous whites, but profound rosés and reds. The producer was Hippolyte Reverdy, and we sell those wines in my shop today.
LT: Were there local wines on your shelves when you first opened the shop?
CM: Of course! I came to Long Island with my West Coast preferences firmly installed, believing all the stereotypical stuff about Long Island’s naturally inferior terroir, etc. But I was introduced to David Page and Barbara Shinn and the wines of Shinn Estate Vineyards in my first restaurant job here at Della Femina. There, and in a part-time role at Jacques Franey’s store Domaine Franey, I encountered many of the winemakers and wineries we’ve supported from day one at Wainscott Main — Channing Daughters, Paumanok, Palmer, Bedell, and our neighbors down the road, Wölffer. We always stock [Wölffer winemaker Roman Roth’s] Grapes of Roth riesling and merlot.
LT: How have local wines evolved over the time you’ve had the shop?
CM: I think the wineries that I have the deepest experience with are continuing to improve qualitatively as Long Island has enjoyed a streak of pretty incredible vintages. With each successive vintage, I am so impressed with the finesse that Kareem Massoud is achieving at Paumanok, the varietal typicity that [Palmer Vineyards winemaker] Miguel Martin can demonstrate in a North Fork albariño, the bonkers business model that [Channing Daughters Winery winemaker] Christopher Tracy exhibits with his myriad varieties, molti rosati program, and the advent of his perfect pét nats.
LT: What excites you most about Long Island wine and what styles do you think do best here?
CM: Long Island as a wine region still has so much ahead of it when you consider the way that the Napa and Sonoma valleys have evolved in my wine-buying lifetime; so much opportunity for growth in tourism and still so much undiscovered beauty and deliciousness to offer wine consumers.
I confess to still having a bias toward the white wines on the island, but I am working on it! I know I am supposed to say merlot, but I prefer the pure expressions of cabernet franc, and some of the cool (climate and cool-factor) Austrian and Italian grapes — Blaufränkisch. In whites, I think what the North Fork produces in sauvignon blanc is already world-class and the sky’s the limit. I adore Kareem’s chenin blanc, the pinot blancs from Shinn and Palmer, and I am waiting thoroughly impatiently for someone — anyone — to bust out some Melon de Long Island up there. C’mon, North Fork muscadet, Wainscott Main believes in you!!
LT: Do you have people coming in looking for local wine? Has that always been the case?
CM: Yes and yes. We give a generous amount of space to [local] display, and I think that’s one reason that our sales are so strong.
LT: What are the big sellers — local and not?
CM: Shinn Estate Vineyards NV Red is one of the best values in my shop every year. What began as a means of resolving the tough 2011 vintage for reds (blending back multiple vintages) has become a fantastically underpriced go-to. Even in the face of multiple shining vintages since, the price has stayed the same, as the wine improves year over year. Channing Daughters Molti Rosati, too. This year [winemaker Christopher Tracy] made seven still rosés with the same care and attention the best growers give their best red wines. Single vineyard, single varietal wines. 2016 may have been his finest work to-date. I think these wines are a perfect example of what’s possible on our little spit of land!
Atypical whites like Paumanok’s chenin blanc, Palmer’s albariño, Bedell’s viognier, Roman’s perfect riesling are also big sellers. These wines have long been my “gateway drug” for new-to-New York consumers. These wines are like a great trial attorney or a luxury car salesman. They convince people. I love that about them.